He is so much like Ouisa Boudreaux, crotchety, abrasive, but has a heart of gold. I'm terribly excited to see him, because he can keep me in stitches and have an intelligent conversation with anyone, but particularly the literature crew, because the boy reads. He thinks. He knows his stuff.
Old College Room Mate called me the other night, late. He'd been drinking, and so had I, and he confessed what I already knew: he's gay. Or at least he's trying to figure out if he is. I'm proud of him for taking that step. Back when I was with him every day, OCRM was a bit standoffish, afraid to let people know him too much. He always denied any speculative rumors of his sexuality, and he had the conveniently located Colorado "girlfriend" who never was around. So, for him to explore his sexuality and practice assuming a gay identity is major. For him to invite me along on this process is flattering.
Identity issues are tough. Sometimes I feel like I know that more than anyone. I find myself wanting to give OCRM tips on how to successfully navigate himself through the closet door, but I realize that the process is different for everyone. OCRM came to terms with his sexuality by first entering into sexual relationships with other men and denying the gay label associated with those activities. 'Gay' is a tough label to willingly accept, because it casts its bearers in the role of Other forever. It makes them suspect, opens them up to countless, "bless his little heart" epithets. I readily understand why OCRM has been so reluctant to put on the Homo Hat.
Coming out was different for me, probably because I was so young. When I was fifteen I told my high school friends one-by-one, and much to my surprise all were completely fine with it. After that I worked on finding something within the cauldron of stereotypes associated with 'Gay' that I could latch on to and learn to perform my identity. I wrote poems. I colored my hair. I auditioned for the school play. I did everything I could to learn how to live as a gay man, as someone who accepts the label and the marginal status in stride. Any type of sexual contact with another man would come much later, because I was too scared of men--too scared, or at least unsure, of the man I would become. Like sex for any teenager, I didn't know what to do (literally, in my case) or how to do it. Unlike other high school kids, I wasn't willing to fool around until I figured it out. Experimentation would come later, when I was in college and more used to living as openly gay.
At sixteen, I came out to my parents, shortly after the 9/11 attacks when I thought the world was going to end and I couldn't face Jesus without having confessed my dark secret to Momma and Daddy. Coming out under fire, I was greeted with mixed-and-unexpected responses from my parents. Daddy, the stoic, emotionally frigid, ex-Marine, law enforcement officer said "Well, that's okay." To this day we've never talked about my sexuality again. Momma, on the other hand, cried in bed for two days and told me how disappointed she was in me. Isn't it funny how the meanest things someone ever says to you come from those who you are closest to? I'll never forget when my momma told me she'd sooner me be dead than gay. I was devastated, because I'd been raised to believe my mother would always love me. And she did, and she does. I don't fault her for what she said, because I know she didn't mean it. Like me, my mother was learning to play a new role, one she'd never pictured herself in before: the accepting mother of a gay son. After her two-day crying jaunt, she got out of bed, went back to work, and to this day is my biggest fan. Sometimes people have to do the wrong thing in order to know how to do the right one.
I want to share all this with OCRM, to let him know that coming out, especially initially, is an emotionally over-wrought process. He will feel more loved than he has before, and he will get hurt. He'll feel regret, that perhaps he'll change and not be gay after he's told his friends and family, and then what? He'll develop a heightened sense of awareness about other people's intentions and attitudes, because a part of him always will be on guard. A part always has to be.
Ultimately I want him to know that despite the challenges, the fact that he'll be coming out all his life to every new person he meets, it's something he needs to do in order to feel better about himself. Disclosure, honesty, self-acceptance: these are keys to successful maturation, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I want him to know that loving himself is key in situations like these, followed closely by surrounding himself with people who love and support him. There are a lot of negative people with ill-intentions towards difference, but those are not the people to dwell on, because by fearing them we give them what the want. I want him to know that he is lovely and he will always be loved because he deserves nothing less.
But before all that, I want him to know that I am not a bad housekeeper and I do have some semblance of taste, so it's off to cleaning, scrubbing, and installing the curtain rods I've been meaning to get around to for 8 months.